Muslims in America

New Wave of Anti-Islamic Sentiment

Since the attack on the Boston Marathon on 15 April 2013, anti-Islamic sentiment has been on the rise in the United States. Joseph Mayton takes a look at the causes and the consequences of this development

While many in the media have been quick to lash out against the Islamic radicals, they have largely ignored the Muslim voices of America, instead choosing self-proclaimed "experts" to discuss the supposed "rationale" behind Islam and Islamic terrorism. In order to have Islam explained to Americans, white middle-aged men are speaking on behalf of over one billion believers.

For Nouran, the future of Muslims in America will be determined by how "empowered" the Muslim community can become. Nouran, a Syrian-American who studies political science and gender studies at San Francisco State University, says that her veil is a "turn-off for many in seeing me as someone who has agency to make my own decisions." For her, this stems from the fact that Muslim veiled women do not have a pulpit from which to talk about their identity within the American context.

"Too often we see 'Muslim' women speaking on our behalf, telling the country how deprived and oppressed we are, and a lot of this has supposedly to do with the veil," she continued. "We need more women to speak for Muslims like me. I am American and proud." This is part of the "perception" problem that has given rise to the anti-Muslim backlash following the Boston attack.

People hold candles during a vigil for slain MIT police officer Sean Collier at the Town Common in Wilmington, Massachusetts, 20 April 2013 (photo: Reuters)
People in Wilmington, Massachusetts, peacefully mourn during a vigil for slain police officer Sean Collier, who was killed as Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan tried to evade capture

Death threats against Muslims

That is despite the fact that leading Muslim organisations in the US issued statements of grief, condemning the attacks, saying they have been saddened that the attackers were "Muslims". "Any time there's any acts of violence in the world, we hope and pray no Muslims were involved," Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a phone interview from Washington. "It puts us in a very difficult situation."

Hooper said he had received death threats after the Boston bombings, saying those calls are common after anti-American incidents involving Muslims. "'Get out of my country,' that kind of thing," he said.

But Muslim communities do contact lawyers who are willing to be consulted by the Muslim community in response to backlash incidents. "Lawyering up", Hooper said, is just a necessary way of doing business. "Part of protecting any minority community is teaching them their rights."
And he is right, Muslim rights need protecting.

Farewell to political correctness

In late May, Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called on government authorities to boost surveillance of Muslims in the country, citing the Islamic background of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Police must "realise that the threat is coming from the Muslim community, and increase surveillance there," the New York lawmaker told National Review.

King, who is known for his anti-Islam stance, spearheaded controversial hearings on the radicalisation of Muslim-Americans in 2011 and also told CNN that "we can't be politically correct", further insinuating that America's Chechen community has become infiltrated by terrorists.

Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence (photo: AP)
Speaking out against Muslims: Republican Representative Peter King

Islamisation though the back door?

King is not the only one to speak out against Muslims, even though the two brothers who committed the Boston bomb attacks had lived in the United States for the past 11 years, which could reveal more about their angst and frustration with the current economic, political and social situation in the country they were living in than their alleged faith. But that doesn't seem to stop our political leaders from issuing tirades of hatred against Muslims as a whole.

South Carolina's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham declared that the Tsarnaev brothers were on a "jihad mission". "Radical jihadists are trying to attack us here at home," she told Fox News. "Every day we face threats from radical Islamists and they are coming through our back yard and trying to radicalise American citizens."

A myth created by 9/11

My problem with this anti-Islam sentiment is that it is unfounded. It is a myth that has been created because of September 11, 2001. Certainly, it was understandable then, but today, over 12 years on, maybe it is time to look at who is really killing the majority of Americans and who are the terrorists.

The school and theatre shootings that we have witnessed in recent months killed more people than the Boston Bombings and should accordingly likewise be labelled as "acts of terrorism". If it takes a bomb to be called a terrorist, then we have misunderstood the word. When white people kill, they are mentally unstable. But when Muslims kill they are crazy, or as Peter King would likely say, they're "just Muslim".

Joseph Mayton

© Qantara.de 2013

Joseph Mayton is an American journalist based in Cairo, Egypt, writing for, among others, the British daily The Guardian. He is currently working on a book about the Muslim Brotherhood and is founder and editor of the website Bikya Masr.

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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